Anne Cornilleau, Head of studies at the Observatory of Philanthropy, and Hazal Atay, researcher at Cevipof (Sciences Po).

Gender inequa­lity opera­tes both verti­cally and horizontally

Fondation de France publishes a new study on Gender Parity in the French philanthropic sector. The authors of the study, Hazal Atay, researcher at Cevipof (Sciences Po) and Anne Cornilleau, Head of studies at the Observatory of Philanthropy, Fondation de France talk about the glass ceiling, the roots of the problem and the role, foundations can play in achieving gender parity.

Why did you write your study now?

Hazal Atay: Gender parity has been discus­sed for diffe­rent domains and fields of acti­vity in France, yet the phil­an­thro­pic sector has largely remained outside of these conver­sa­ti­ons. Like­wise, where seve­ral gender parity laws were enac­ted for certain poli­ti­cal elec­tions or for the gover­nance of large compa­nies, the phil­an­thro­pic sector was virtually not affec­ted by these laws. Moreo­ver, gender parity in foun­da­ti­ons and endow­ment funds were not studied previously or very margi­nally, and there was a gap in the lite­ra­ture on this matter.

This intrigued you?

Yes. We were intrigued by this lack of regu­la­tion and discus­sion regar­ding gender parity for and in the phil­an­thro­pic sector and wanted to under­take a preli­mi­nary study to shed light on the current state of gender parity in the phil­an­thro­pic sector in France, but also to invite further conver­sa­ti­ons and studies on this matter. To this aim, we coll­ec­ted data on boards’ gender compo­si­tion and conduc­ted 21 inter­views with boards members and CEO’s of foundations.

We observe a slow progress over 20 years across public bene­fit foundations

Anne Cornil­leau

What are the main findings of the study?

Anne Cornil­leau: Women remain under­re­pre­sen­ted in gover­nance of foun­da­ti­ons and endow­ment funds in France; they make up one third of the boards exami­ned in this study. We observe a slow progress over 20 years across public bene­fit foun­da­ti­ons; where 15% of the boards of direc­tors achie­ved gender parity in 2001, this has increa­sed to 29% in 2021. We noted that gender parity is more common in corpo­rate foun­da­ti­ons and across small-sized boards. What is inte­re­st­ing here is that corpo­rate foun­da­ti­ons are often crea­ted by compa­nies for which gender quotas in boards are compul­sory since the enact­ment of a 2011 French law. It is also important to empha­size that the size of the board is linked with the scope and finan­cial means of foun­da­ti­ons. One could thus posit that enti­ties with the most expan­sive boards of direc­tors tend to have high stakes in terms of power and perso­nal status, which could exacer­bate gender inequality.

You note a great imba­lance in the foun­da­ti­ons-sector in France in terms of gender parity. What is your analy­sis of the situation?

A.C.: The problem is actually twofold; on the one hand, we are confron­ted with the fact that women are under­re­pre­sen­ted in the board of direc­tors of foun­da­ti­ons and endow­ment funds. On the other hand, even where there seems to be a gender equal repre­sen­ta­tion, there may be an unequal divi­sion of tasks and respon­si­bi­li­ties. Indeed, we found that women are less likely to preside as chairs of the boards, and more likely to be given the role of secretary.

H.A.: This hints at the existence of a glass ceiling for foun­da­ti­ons and endow­ment funds in France; the phil­an­thro­pic sector is very ‘femi­ni­zed’, yet we see that women are not inclu­ded in the gover­nance of these struc­tures. Moreo­ver, these findings also suggest that inequa­li­ties are repro­du­ced at diffe­rent levels; even where women and men are equally repre­sen­ted, a gender-stereo­ty­ped divi­sion of labor persists and women are assi­gned roles with less decis­ion-making power.

even where women and men are equally repre­sen­ted, a gender-stereo­ty­ped divi­sion of labor persists and women are assi­gned roles with less decis­ion-making power.

Hazal Atay

This problem has many root causes, which include lack of aware­ness and discus­sions on gender parity, diver­sity and inclu­sion for and in the phil­an­thro­pic sector as well as social inequa­li­ties that persist in French society.

Is gender parity more than nume­ri­cally balan­ced repre­sen­ta­tion on a board?

A.C.: Gender inequa­lity is not merely about women’s nume­ri­cal under­re­pre­sen­ta­tion, nor is it just about men’s over­re­pre­sen­ta­tion. We see that gender inequa­lity is a pheno­me­non that is repro­du­ced at diffe­rent levels and it opera­tes both verti­cally and hori­zon­tally. Women are not only rest­ric­ted with a glass ceiling; they also face discri­mi­na­tion in the roles they assume or are assi­gned at a given level of acti­vity. Moreo­ver, gender inequa­lity also has cultu­ral and symbo­lic signi­fi­cance. As it is repro­du­ced, it beco­mes part of the culture; sectors or roles from which women are exclu­ded are incre­a­singly beco­ming male sectors and roles.

Gender inequa­lity also has cultu­ral and symbo­lic significance.

Anne Cornil­leau

Since the mode of opera­tion and impact of gender inequa­li­ties are multi­di­men­sio­nal, our approach to gender parity must also be multi­di­men­sio­nal. In this regard, we under­line in the report that gender parity is hori­zon­tal as much as it is verti­cal. Gender parity is ther­e­fore much more than a nume­ri­cal balance, it is quali­ta­tive as well as quan­ti­ta­tive. This was well atte­sted during the inter­views, where foun­da­ti­ons demon­stra­ted a cross-cutting approach to gender parity. They expres­sed that they see the chall­enge of gender parity linked to many other issues, that are both inter­nal and exter­nal to foun­da­ti­ons. For many of them, gender parity is also a matter of inclu­si­ve­ness and diver­sity. They also see it inte­gral to their work and advan­ced the opinion that foun­da­ti­ons shall set and lead by exam­ple towards more gender equality, diver­sity, and inclusion.

What can foun­da­ti­ons do to change?

H.A.: In the report, we propose some actionable steps that foun­da­ti­ons can take to towards gender parity. It all starts with raising aware­ness regar­ding gender parity and rela­ted issues. In this context, foun­da­ti­ons need to follow the deve­lo­p­ments and discus­sions about gender parity that are taking place in various sectors and in the world. They have to see them­sel­ves party to, not exempt from, these conver­sa­ti­ons. Aware­ness in values and prin­ci­ples are important, but it has to be follo­wed by an assess­ment of the situa­tion of gender parity in the foun­da­tion. To this aim, we parti­cu­larly recom­mend coll­ec­ting sex-disag­gre­ga­ted data to under­stand what’s at stake with gender parity in a given foun­da­tion. Such an assess­ment, howe­ver, only provi­des us with a diagno­stic of the current situa­tion. Foun­da­ti­ons also need to orga­nize brain­stor­ming sessi­ons to reflect on these assess­ments. These sessi­ons can also be venues for discus­sing other issues rela­ted to parity, like diver­sity and inclu­sion, and can also be enlar­ged to include discus­sions among other foun­da­ti­ons or within networks. It is ideal if foun­da­ti­ons work on an action plan or a road­map detail­ing their commit­ments and actions towards gender parity; it is only with such a concrete plan that we can carry the diagno­stic account (the assess­ment) to a prescrip­tive account for progres­sive change. In imple­men­ting action plans, foun­da­ti­ons may consider inve­st­ing in estab­li­shing appli­ca­tion proces­ses promo­ting diver­sity within boards and capa­city buil­ding by orga­ni­zing aware­ness raising campaigns or trai­nings on gender parity, diver­sity and inclusion.

It is ideal if foun­da­ti­ons work on an action plan or a roadmap.

Hazal Atay

The process towards gender parity needs to be an ongo­ing one, in which gender equality remains on the agenda and is tack­led as new inequa­li­ties may emerge or jeopar­dize gender parity even when or after it is acquired.

Trans­for­ma­tive action cycle toward gender parity in foun­da­ti­ons and endow­ment funds

What role foun­da­ti­ons can play in achie­ving gender parity?

H.A.: Gender parity stands for a socie­tal and insti­tu­tio­nal ideal, and is ther­e­fore a matter of public inte­rest. Throug­hout the inter­views, execu­tive members of foun­da­ti­ons expres­sed that the phil­an­thro­pic sector can set and lead by exam­ple to support a socie­tal sea change towards gender inequi­ties. For some of the inter­view­ees, this was a matter of cohe­rence; as foun­da­ti­ons are dedi­ca­ted to achie­ving public inte­rest, they have to commit to gender  equality. Indeed, foun­da­ti­ons can play a leading role in brin­ging change towards gender equality.


Read the study: Gender Parity: Chal­lenges, issues, and oppor­tu­ni­ties for foun­da­ti­ons and endow­ment funds in France

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